Law and Conversation

September 10, 2010

Trials of literature

Thanks to Harrisburg, PA lawyer and writer Harvey Freedenberg for connecting with me on Twitter and calling my attention to this story about the obscenity trial of D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”  In the Autumn 2010 issue of The American Scholar, Ben Yagoda writes, “for six days in late October and early November of 1960, Penguin Books was tried in the Old Bailey for having attempted to bring out a paperback edition of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which had been banned since its 1928 publication.”  Yagoda’s description of the literary star-studded cast of witnesses and testimony presented is fascinating for anyone interested in freedom of expression and literature.

Yagoda teaches English, journalism, and writing at the University of Delaware.  He’s recently published “Memoir:  A History,” in which, using memoirs from St. Augustine to the present, he discusses “memoir’s fraught relationship with the truth.”  The New York Times reviewed Yagoda’s book here; Yagoda also discussed it with guest host Kevin Sylvester on “The Sunday Edition” from the CBC on its November 22, 2009 program.

Other books that have been the subjects of obscenity trials include James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl and Other Poems,” and Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary.”  All are now considered classics.  More recently, a number of Turkish writers,  including Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, have been prosecuted under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, which makes it illegal to insult Turkey, the Turkish ethnicity, or Turkish institutions.  Stories are available on the CBC, in the New York Times, and in The Guardian.

Have you read any books that have been the subject of trials for obscenity or other alleged offenses?  If so, what did you think of them?

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